Like bookends, two major developments are transforming southern San Diego County’s city of Chula Vista on its most eastern and western fronts: the 535-acre (216 ha) Chula Vista Bayfront development on the San Diego Bay, and Otay Ranch, which will provide nearly 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of master-planned, multiuse development, with a projected population of more than 110,000.

Situated on the largest urban waterfront site left in California, the Chula Vista Bayfront development is the culmination of a decade-long planning process by a partnership between the city of Chula Vista and the San Diego Unified Port District to create a mixed-use residential community and resort destination on the South Bay waterfront, said Gary Halbert, city manager for Chula Vista, at the September ULI San Diego/Tijuana breakfast event.

It represents one of the last truly significant large-scale waterfront development opportunities in Southern California, with 30 acres (12 ha) directly on the waterfront. The site is accessible by car, bike, and mass transit and will ultimately include seven residential towers with about 1,500 condominium units; a resort hotel and convention center; an RV park; a shoreline promenade with shopping and dining amenities; and 200 acres (81 ha) of parks, walking trails, and open space ecologically planned with buffers to protect wildlife habitats, species, and other coastal resources.

Three components will begin breaking ground over the next year, including a 19-acre (7.7 ha), 246-space, $55 million Costa Vista RV Resort by Michigan-based Sun Communities; the $1 billion RIDA Resort Hotel & Convention Center, which is being developed by Poland-based RIDA Development Corporation and will be operated by Nashville-based Gaylord Hotels; and the $5.63 million Sweetwater Trail, a three-quarter-mile (1.2 km), multiuse bike and pedestrian path.

Scheduled for completion in spring 2020, the Sweetwater Path will transform an industrial site on the northern portion of the parcel to a public amenity and connect the regional Bayshore Bikeway to Chula Vista Bayfront amenities.

Opening in mid-2020, the RV resort, which is relocating and replacing an existing RV park in the middle of the bayfront site to make way for the resort hotel and convention center, includes 74 RV park models to provide non-RV owners with an RV experience. It also features aquatic facilities, including a children’s play pool, an adult pool, and a Jacuzzi; an entertainment arcade and game room; a children’s playground with rock climbing; an on-site restaurant; and gym, day spa, and sauna facilities.

The Gaylord resort hotel and convention center is expected to break ground next summer, with opening in mid-2023, and includes 1,600 hotel rooms, 275,000 square feet (25,500 sq m) of convention and meeting space, a 1,600-space parking structure, restaurant and bar amenities, a pool with a lazy river, spa, recreational facilities, and bike and boat rentals.

Halbert contended that the convention center will complement rather than compete with the San Diego Convention Center, since it will serve small groups of up to 1,500 and be operated by Gaylord, which already has a following of loyal convention clients, and so will bring new business to the region.

From left to right: Hale’ Richardson, vice president at Homefed Corporation; Shaun Sumner, assistant vice president of Real Estate & Development Services, San Diego Unified Port District – Real Estate; Gary Halbert, city manager for the city of Chula Vista; Paul Marra, event moderator and managing principal at Keyser Marston Associates; and Beth Callender, cochair of the ULI San Diego–Tijuana District Council and principal at CallendarWorks speaking at a ULI event.

He noted that this development will require more than $63 million in new public infrastructure funded by the city, port district, and developers. The hotel developer is investing $800 million in the hotel resort and the city and port are investing $240 billion in the convention center. About one-third of the overall $1.2 billion cost, which is on the scale of public investment in San Diego’s Ballpark District, is being funded by the city tax revenue and income from land leases on land owned by both the city and port, which will go into one bucket to service the debt.

“Key was the port had a master plan from the beginning and went after a quality developer to pull off a successful transformation project,” said Shaun Sumner, assistant vice president, real estate and development services at the Port of San Diego. He noted that this sustainable plan meets specific mandates in regard to energy efficiency, which includes foundational infrastructure, high-performance buildings, and scalability. In addition, the plan calls for a 13-foot (4 m) building elevation to accommodate predicted sea-level rise.

“We moved rapidly from milestone to milestone, and at the end of the day, the success of this partnership is about communication, team work, and building confidence,” Sumner continued, noting that one of the biggest challenges was keeping the Chula Vista City Council and port board of directors up to date on the process.

He suggested that the relationship between the city and port initially got off to a rocky start, but was fine-tuned over time. “Today, it feels like we’re one public agency working together,” Sumner added.

Renderings of the approved “RV Resort” in Chula Vista, which combines both traditional trailer lots and bungalows.

Sumner noted that the lack of opposition from the community, which has been supportive of the project, accelerated the development progress. But Halbert indicated that opposition may yet occur, since “we’re giving up the TOT [transient occupancy tax], and property and sales taxes.”

The east side of Chula Vista includes three master-planned communities, including Eastlake, Rancho del Rey, and Otay Ranch. The newest and largest development is Otay Ranch, which comprises 22,899 acres (9,266 ha) and stretches from near Interstate 805 on its western border, east to San Ysidro and the Otay mountain foothills and lies within the jurisdictions of Chula Vista, San Diego, and San Diego County.

Otay Ranch is a suburban development, but the land use plan is actually antisuburban, calling from very dense, urban, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly development. It connects villages and commercial space with trails and greenways to encourage pedestrian activity and non-automotive, alternative modes of transportation, like bikes and electric scooters, and provides access to mass transit.

The land use plan calls for 49,648 new homes and the creation of related services, recreational facilities and other amenities, and employment opportunities. Land uses include the following:

  • An existing 654,646-square-foot (60,800 sq m) outdoor retail mall operated by General Growth Properties;
  • A 125,000-square-foot (11,600 sq m) retail center at Millenia by locally based Sudberry Properties;
  • Neighborhood retail services;
  • Elementary and high schools;
  • Recreational, cultural, civic, and sports facilities;
  • Two regional parks, a wildlife corridor, greenbelts, trails, and 11,375-acre (1,056 ha) land preserve;
  • More than 338 acres (137 ha) of light industrial space;
  • Various types of office product, from small business space to office towers;
  • A university innovation district (UID) with a technology and research park and university campuses;
  • A state-of-the-art, 155-acre (63 ha) U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center; and
  • A 230-acre (93 ha) Resort Center on Otay Lake that includes hotels, a golf course, resort-related residential uses, a clubhouse, and commercial and public service uses.

Locally based HomeFed Corporation is underway on the 350-acre (142 ha) Village of Escaya, which will include 992 attached and detached homes, 273 apartments, a lively 30,000-square-foot (2,800 sq m) town center, a park, an elementary school, a resort-style swim club, and 380,000 square feet (35,000 sq m) of office space. Paseos and trails will link Escaya residents to Chula Vista’s extensive trail system and future Otay Ranch Preserve, the largest urban open space preserve in the San Diego region.

The developer also owns undeveloped parcels for five more villages, with a total of 4,450 acres (1,800 ha) that are planned and entitled for 13,000 homes and more than 2 million square feet (186,000 sq m) of commercial development. Approximately 75 acres (30 ha) have been set aside for schools and 300 acres (121 ha) for parks.

Hale´ Richardson, vice president at HomeFed Corporation, who presented an update on Otay Ranch’s development at the ULI event, noted that the city requires 15 percent inclusionary affordable housing at three income levels, but Otay Ranch also is providing “attainable” housing, priced from about $400,000, as well as townhouses and apartments.

Two of HomeFed’s undeveloped parcels, Villages 9 and 10, border the city’s UID, noted Richardson. According to Richardson and Halbert, the city is in negotiations with two universities, Arizona State University and St. Catherine University, to establish satellite campuses here.

Richardson noted that HomeFed is planning these villages to create a symbiotic relationship with UID university and research activities, including housing for faculty and staff and office space to provide jobs for graduates. “There will be interplay between the city, universities, and villages, as we want the universities to be successful,” Richardson remarked. To create a catalyst for UID development, Halbert said that the city is requiring HomeFed to develop a vertical office tower before beginning residential development at Village 9.

Otay Ranch’s live/work/play environment will provide thousands of new jobs locally. “We don’t want to further exacerbate traffic congestion,” Richardson said, noting that city officials and developers are collaborating with large San Diego employers to provide flexible, satellite work centers at Otay Ranch to eliminate the commute for their Chula Vista employees and reduce San Diego traffic congestion.

Sumner stressed that to create great assets, it is important to partner with the right people and choose developers with vision to lead development.

Video of ground breaking for Chula Vista RV Resort.